The lifestyle-choice vote that the Green party represents will not disappear along with the demise of the Liberal Democrats

Beware the green-eyed monster

During the recent election campaign I was out in Leicester South in a ward near the university. Some voters came across to apologise for their mistake in voting Liberal Democrat and to pledged their support for Labour. But it was clear that some of the university voters who had gone Liberal Democrat were now disillusioned and moving to the Greens. Good news for us tactically, but possibly also a portent for the future as the Liberal Democrat implosion gathers pace.

Over the decades, my mantra has been that the Liberal Democrats are not a political party in any conventional sense, but a franchise operation. When they hit hard times the whole operation can fall apart very quickly. We are seeing that nationally and we may well soon see that in a number of localities.

They do not have the basic glue that holds together the Conservative and Labour parties. Accordingly, we may well see not only their voters deserting them, but also their members and activists. Many will come to us, and are already doing so, but there is a strong possibility, especially in university towns, that many in their activist base will shift across to the Greens, as in Brighton.

Local parties need to be alert to this. They must not make the mistake that so many made in the past with the Liberal Democrats of letting them gain momentum – securing control in one ward and building on that outwards into other wards until they get a critical mass on the council and are then able to erode parliamentary majorities. The Greens have, after all, already achieved this in Brighton.

It is not just local party officers and activists who need to be on the ball, but regional offices must also be particularly alert to any eruption of Green activity and saturate the area with campaigning and material in order to make the Greens’ real agenda known. Voters should be able to make an informed decision about whether they really want to give up their cars, their holidays, jobs in industry or their ability to get to work.

We also have to understand the core appeal of the Greens. My researcher Linda Smith, who beat a sitting Green councillor in Hackney, found that for many of their young professional voters it was less a political choice to vote Green and more a lifestyle choice. They were not dependent on council services and did not identify with Labour and its affinity with the poorer residents of the borough, but by voting Green they could still appear ‘progressive’ among their dinner party set. This cult of non-politics and anti-politics is harder to root out than a conventional political choice.


Photo: Leo Reynolds

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Comments: 6...

  1. On June 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm Tracey Hill responded with... #

    This is absolutely right. Greens in Brighton have achieved a critical mass which has given them the credibility voters needed. They are also very effective campaigners and have a party structure that enables them to be flexible enough to do what’s needed. Their resources are targeted here, meaning that they are well funded locally. They have a strong and consistent presence in the community and get better coverage in the local press – and, with Caroline Lucas, the national press also! Although they promise very little, their appeal is in being “different” from all other parties, and people readily believe that they can succeed in making real change where all others have supposedly failed. The grass, as they say, is greener. While they have won their support mainly from former Labour voters by attacking Labour’s record, voters are reluctant to hear any criticism of the Greens, even when we are much more restrained than they are. The “Green bounce” we saw at the local elections took everyone by surprise, including them. The worry is what would happen if there’s a similar upswing in Labour/Tory marginal seats. Labour will suffer the consequences, making it much harder to get back into power nationally. This isn’t purely a local or regional issue. Activists who find themselves facing the Green Party should be working together to share ideas, and we’re planning a Fringe session at Conference to further this. In the meantime, get in touch!

  2. On June 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm Nishma responded with... #

    Perhaps the shift to the Greens is because of Labour’s failure to help those in the working classes, the poorest, and stick to their left-wing policies instead a ‘non-political’ or ‘anti-political’ front? Whatever happened to discussing policy instead of tactics? I guess that died when the New Labour Spin Doctor moved in…

  3. On June 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm Tracey Hill responded with... #

    This is a good example of the naivety of many Green Party supporters. They genuinely think the Green Party does not do “spin” and never sinks to the depths of planning how they might increase their vote, like the mainstream parties do. The Greens are different, etc etc. It’s a good line.

  4. On June 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm jiltedlabour responded with... #

    “for many of their young professional voters it was less a political choice to vote Green and more a lifestyle choice. They were not dependent on council services and did not identify with Labour and its affinity with the poorer residents of the borough, but by voting Green they could still appear ‘progressive’ among their dinner party set. This cult of non-politics and anti-politics is harder to root out than a conventional political choice.” And that’s the kind of patronising cobblers which will see Labour rightly stay out office for the forseeable future – never apologising, never opening up, but always carping at those who have alternative ideas.

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